It is said that picture speaks a thousand words, but the incident last week has given the people of Meghalaya another saying about photographs that one can think of. The new saying is that a picture can also unfortunately land the photographer some punches on his/her face and torso and somebody can just beat a person black and blue for the sake of one photograph. The incident has certainly tarnished the image of the house and the public perception of the MLAs is also at an all time low.
What are Assembly or Parliamentary sessions for lay people like you and me? Well for a commoner; assembly and parliament sessions come and go, One can hardly remember what the debate was about and what Bill was passed in the last sitting of the house except for some important act that was legislated. Yet the last budget session of the incumbent government will last in the public memory for a very long time but for all the wrong reasons. People will not remember this assembly session because many important bills were passed by the august house; nor will people remember it because of the oratory skills of the Sangmas on both side of the camp. Neither will it be remembered about the lung power of Ardent Basaiawmoit and Manas Chaudhuri or about Conrad Sangma’s style and command over English language. People will remember this session for the photograph that has made the MLA of Mawlai assault the person who took the photograph; a photograph that has made to the headlines of many local dailies. Never in the history of this young state has a single photograph created such a furore the way a Cajee’s sleeping photograph did.
This session is all about our sleeping giants in the Assembly, because not only Cajee’s photograph made it to the press but many more MLAs were caught napping in the house. Can the photographs of sleeping MLAs become part of the history of the state in 2012?
The incident hit the social medial network when a senior video journalist reported about the incident on his facebook page. Apart from those condemning the incident and the MLA, a young woman posted in defence of the MLA’s right to sleep in the house. She is right. There is nothing wrong with the MLAs having a nap in the Assembly, but we also need to remind ourselves that the MLAs are paid sitting fees and even traveling allowances (TA) by the assembly office for every single day they attend the house in addition to the regular pay and perks they enjoy as our representatives. Rather than sleeping in the house, the MLAs should forfeit their sitting fees and TA and have a sound sleep at home, thereby saving themselves from embarrassment and wasting public money.
It is not unusual for the paparazzi to be assaulted by celebrities but one has seldom heard of politicians involved in public brawls with photo journalists. In some cases the paparazzi has indeed invade the privacy of certain celebrities and they were not able to distinguish between the private life and public life of a celebrity’s life. But in this case it is not an invasion of the member’s private life. To start with; the person involved is a public representative and he is expected to act and behave like one. And the photograph was not taken in his bedroom or bathroom which might constitute a case of the photo journalist intruding into his private life. The photograph was taken in the august house in the presence of MLAs, senior bureaucrats and reporters so it was taken in broad day light. The photojournalist did not invade the MLA’s privacy, because the photograph was taken of him dozing in the Assembly. And we need to remind ourselves that the privacy of the place or event ceases if a crime is committed in the particular spot. Even if the MLA feels that there is some element in the photo which can damage his reputation (as an individual) and the constitution also guarantees that every citizen has the right to seek justice and to be treated fairly, he still had not right to take the law in his hands and go about beating anybody. As a legislator he should seek justice using the available legal means facility and let the law take its own course. Beating up anyone should not even cross his mind.
Again what is highly unacceptable and childish of the MLA is to involve the people of his constituency in the unpleasant incident. And even if the journalist used foul language and call people names like savage etc. (which he denied and the truth of which will only be known after the investigation), what is expected of a real leaders is to keep it tohimself and use it (if he may) when it comes to defend his case in the court of law. By stating in public that the journalist called people names, Cajee expected that the allegation would save his skin and put him in a better light, but in the process he has irresponsibly put the life of the photo journalist in danger. And this is not expected from a responsible leader. The case has backfired on him.
Even if we give the MLA the benefit of doubt that the photo journalist provoked him, it is unbecoming of a public leader in the status of an MLA to even return the diatribe. We may not expect Cajee to turn his other cheek, but what is expected of him is to use his hands only for gestures while debating in the house and not to punch people. It is notexpected of a public leader to assault anybody and that too in the assembly premises- the temple of democracy. The incident is like a pastor or a priest punching somebody in the church corridor itself just after the church service because the sanctity of the house is being tarnished here.
If an odd photograph; gives the MLA the right to land punches on someone’s body face then we can expect many more incidents like this because a lot more MLAs were photographed catching a nap in the august house and whoever took the photographs should be careful. But we hope that lesson have been learned and that MLAs should be careful not to sleep in the house as it might land the MLA in an ugly situation which he might regret later. The sanctity of the house should be maintained at any cost. The house is no less sacred than the church, the temple, the mosque, synagogue or the gurudwara.
Media persons too are public representatives because whatever they do while performing their job is for the benefit of the public. They too serve the people and in fact in many cases they report history as it happens. If the imbroglio in budget session 2012 of the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly is to make it to the history books, it is the media which recorded the history and in this case a journalist and the entire media fraternity are part of the making of history making. This is really one incident that will make it to the history books of the state. And it’s all about a photograph.
(The author is an independent researcher and an environmental activist)